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Godsey, Venable square off at BMS forum

April 15th, 2014 11:22 pm by J. H. Osborne

Godsey, Venable square off at BMS forum

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Steve Godsey and Richard Venable, the two candidates for Sullivan County mayor, spent an hour Tuesday answering questions about their experiences, perceptions and abilities when it comes to leading county government.

Voters will pick either Godsey or Venable to be county mayor for the next four years in the May 6 Republican party primary, for which early voting begins today.

The two men sat together amicably Tuesday evening for a public forum hosted at Bristol Motor Speedway's Bruton Smith Building by the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

It was not a debate, per se — each candidate had up to three minutes to answer a series of questions, drawn from a goldfish bowl by moderator Jack Dempsey, vice president and general manager of WCYB.

Each candidate also gave opening and concluding comments.

Godsey, who has been mayor since 2006, opened by saying what he wants is the best he can have for his grandchildren and county residents and their families.

"We have been trying to do things that benefit and better Sullivan County and make it the greatest place that you could chose to live in the United States," Godsey said, going on to urge voters with questions about his accomplishments to go to his campaign website for more details.

Venable, who was county mayor from 2002 to 2006 and has spent the past eight years heading up NETWORKS Economic Development Partnership, said he is running for mayor because his more than 20 years of service at the state and local levels of government makes him uniquely qualified.

Venable said serving as county mayor was the most fulfilling job he's ever had, and noted that he'd recently re-read his mayoral candidacy announcement speech from 2002.

And he noticed "no where did I have to say I wanted to restore confidence in our government and regain the respect of the people for our government."

"That's one reason I'm running," Venable said. "I think we have a crisis of confidence of the people."

Venable said Sullivan County is now part of a global economy and attracting new employers and other businesses to the region can be made more difficult when potential newcomers get online and read headlines and reports that describe the chaos he said county government has, at times, become.

Earlier this year, the Sullivan County Commission voted to name one of its own members as chairman of commission meetings — a position previously bestowed upon Godsey, Venable and all their modern-day predecessors.

One question posed to the candidates asked if either would pursue being named to that post if elected county mayor this time around.

Godsey said he would not want that job — and said he in fact had urged county commissioners to remove him from that role for several years. Godsey said he wanted the county mayor to be free to act in the executive role and leave the legislative, decision-making process to the County Commission. Godsey said not serving as commission chairman means he can veto commission action — although he admitted such a veto can be overridden fairly easily by the commission.

Venable said he would be honored and would welcome an invitation from the County Commission to serve again as chairman.

Venable said that is precisely the kind of leadership — making sure all sides are heard and respected, and building relationships that produce collaboration and cooperation — that the county mayor should be willing and able to provide.

The county general election ballot is not until August, but the race for Sullivan County mayor will be decided in the Republican party primary because no one is running as a Democrat or independent.

Other races included in the primaries include the bulk of offices in Sullivan County government, such as sheriff, highway commissioner, county trustee, register of deeds, county clerk, circuit court clerk, county attorney, property assessor, and — at least on the GOP side of the ticket — all 24 seats on the Sullivan County Commission.

Early voting begins at the Sullivan County Election Office in Blountville today and expands to satellite locations at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium and the National Guard Armory in Bristol on April 24.

Registered voters may vote at any early voting location. On election day, however, they must vote at their assigned precinct.

Early voting ends at all three locations on May 1.

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